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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Whiplash 2014 * * * 1/2 Stars

Director: Damien Chazelle
Year: 2014
Rated R
Rating: * * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Paul Reiser

I probably waited too long to see 2014's Whiplash. In fact, I have already comprised my list of top ten picks for said year. Regardless, if I had to revise things (which is something I don't normally do), this small yet loud Sony Pictures release would be right up at the top. I mean what a tantalizing title for a flick and even a cooler title for one about jazz drumming. One minute you're tapping your feet to its infectious groove. The next minute you are wincing and cringing at its mean spiritedness. Ultimately, Whiplash is powerful and heartbreaking. It's a cold sweat of movie, a real rat-a-tat-tat.

The storytelling starts out a little slow only to pick up mega speed. Andrew Neiman (played by Miles Teller) is a 19-year old student at the prestigious Shaffer conservatory (in New York City). He plays the drums and is ambitious as anyone who has ever walked through its doors. He wants to be one of the great musicians of the 21st century with Buddy Rich and Charlie Parker being his full blown idols. He's also fixated on just playing percussion and nothing else. Finally, he doesn't need friends, a girlfriend, or any type of support system in his life to get the job done. In his way however, is conductor Terrence Fletcher (played by J.K. Simmons, who riffs on a sort of bi-polar version of Lee Emery). He has a boot camp approach to getting his orchestra to play the type of perfected tempo he wants. A moody perfectionist, Fletcher berates everyone physically and mentally. He messes with their heads while pounding their fragile psyches into complete submission (there's a scene where he calls someone a worthless pansy ass, that's a new one). Basically, you fear him every time he enters a room. He is the main antagonist but I'd like to think of him more as a bandshell's version of Bill "The Butcher".

That brings me to the ending of Whiplash which is one that I can't quite describe. It's high tail and it's completely exhausting. Just think of the band Led Zeppelin and its late drummer John Bonham doing the solo to "Moby Dick". That might just give you a clue.

Anyway, kudos to the performances featured here. This is a total triumph for actors Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons. It's in an arena like you've never seen them before. J.K.'s persona as a loving dad in Juno plus the softy who does those Farmers Insurance commercials, gone! Teller's dopey characterizations from his plethora of forgotten romcoms, gone! J.K.'s Fletcher is a total hard ass, a real Nazi. Teller's Neiman is cut off from the outside world but in the end, he's a mad cymbal junkie incarnate, a real godsend. Together they make beautiful magic as actors and musical czars. Listen, I know this is a vehicle about excelling in an East Coast conservatory, but both of these characters are seen more as sergeants and privates than anything else. This isn't your normal drama, it's Full Metal Drum Kit.

Kudos also goes to the rousing level of film making for "Whip's" one hour and forty-seven minute running time. Director Damien Chazelle deals in a frenzy of close-ups whether it be the actor's faces, their bloodied hands, or just objects in general. He also provides Whiplash with a couple of whip/swish pans accompanied by the constant sounds of Jazz music (one of the oldest forms of popular music known to man). The film has a shadowy look, it's sullen. Watching every scene feels like you're in a wine bar or a darkly lit restaurant. And the editing which won a coveted Academy Award, is designed to put Neiman's character's romantic life and his relationship with his father (Jim Neiman played by Paul Reiser) off to the side. It then becomes strictly a two person character study, a mishmash of nurse Ratched and convict Randle McMurphy or Andy Dufresne and Warden Norton if you will. Whiplash's themed morality: Sometimes you need to go through hell to find success in what you do. It takes sweat and guts, hits and bruises to achieve greatness. The little people who lack ambition, are nice, and coddle you, matter very minimally in the grand scheme of things (yes I'm talking about Andrew's weak-minded father). Dare I say that this is the best movie of 2014. Whiplash has real "whip" appeal.

Written by Jesse Burleson

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